First up in Around the World is the letter A. According to the US State Department, I had eleven different options. As I pulled up the random number generator via Google, I’d be lying if I claimed if I weren’t rooting for a specific country. I crossed my fingers as I pressed go, hoping to see the number seven flash onto the screen: Argentina. I mean, really, what meal wouldn’t be at least halfway decent accompanied by a glass or two of Malbec? And yet, my hopes were dashed when instead eleven popped up on screen: Azerbaijan.
For those of you who don’t teach high school geography, a little bit of an education may be helpful here. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet state, located just to the west of the Caspian Sea. It’s bordered by Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Iran. As far as its food is concerned, Azerbaijani cuisine is influenced by fresh herbs and seasonal vegetables. Apparently, the local black caviar from the Caspian Sea is a delicacy sought after world wide, but at around $100 an ounce, it wasn’t exactly in the budget for my little experiment.
Instead, I had to search pretty extensively as to what I could make. Apart from the few references in The Kite Runner which I read college, I really had no experience with Middle Eastern cuisine. After researching the cuisine on various websites though (okay, pretty much just Wikipedia) and looking up specific recipes via Google searches, I settled on Badimcan Domasi, or stuffed eggplant. I made some tweaks to the recipe I found, and the end result was a success for us. Additionally, it was very simple to make. Seriously, all I had to do was scoop out some eggplant innards, brown some meat and onions, throw in some seasonings and uncooked rice (yes, UNCOOKED RICE, I said this was easy), fill the empty eggplants, and leave it alone for an hour.
It was a different flavor palate from what I’m used to, but isn’t too different from a stuffed squash or pepper. For me, I think the yogurt sauce was an important accompaniment, as it really brightened the dish. Despite my lack of experience with the regional cuisine, I could actually see myself making this again. So, I can check of the letter A as a success. Now on to the next country…
Azerbaijan: Stuffed Eggplant (Badimcan Dolmasi)
Recipe adapted from http://girlsguidetobutter.com/2012/07/azerbaijani-style-stuffed-eggplants/
Total Calories: 2,059
Calories per Serving: 515
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 2 med sized eggplants
- 2/3 cup uncooked rice
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp butter
- To prep eggplants, trim off stems and cut in half length-wise. Scoop out some of the innards (I left about a half an inch shell around the outside). Leave these face down for the time being so they don’t brown.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the lamb. Once cooked, skim off some of the excess fat and add the onion until it is softened. Then, add the crushed garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add rice, tomato paste, herbs, and spices and mix thoroughly to combine.
- In a dutch oven or medium-sided, covered skillet, place the eggplant face up. Fill each half with approximately one quarter of the filling. Add water till it is about ¾ up the sides of the eggplant and place butter in the bottom of the pan. Cover, bring to a simmer, and let cook for approximately an hour, until the rice is fully cooked and the eggplant is tender.
- Serve hot, with a little of the cooking fluid spooned on top.
- For garnish, drizzle with garlicky yogurt (to make, I stirred a minced clove of garlic into a 6oz container of 0% Chobani plain).